Dieting Makes Little Girls Fatter, Study Finds
Tue Jun 29, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Girls who are starting to get too fat at 5 are often experienced dieters by the age of 9 -- but put on extra fat instead of taking it off, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

They said their study shows that children and their parents are well aware when they weigh too much, but they do not know the best ways to slim down.

Jennifer Shunk and Leann Birch of Pennsylvania State University studied 153 girls living in central Pennsylvania. Those who weighed too much tried to diet, but ended up putting on more weight, they wrote in their report, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

The unhappier the girls were with their weight, the more they tried to diet, but they failed. This supports other research that shows "youths' attempts at weight control may promote weight gain," Shunk and Birch wrote.

At age 5, 32 of the girls were considered at risk of being overweight by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards.

They were checked again at ages 7 and 9. At 7, girls at risk for overweight were eating significantly more than those not at risk, the researchers wrote.

For the study they were asked about foods they ate and answered questions such as, "Do you try to only eat a little bit on purpose so that you won't get fat?"

The girls were left in a room with toys and snacks and told to play or eat while the researchers left the room. The researchers watched to see what the children ate.

The heavier girls tended to munch snacks even if they were not hungry.

The researchers said their study supports other research that shows when people try to diet by simply eating too little, they eventually set themselves up for binges.

Mothers may also help this along by forbidding the girls to eat snacks, they said.

"Even during the preschool period, before any evidence for the emergence of dietary restraint, maternal feeding practices that restrict children's access to palatable foods can promote children's overeating," they wrote.

Middle-class families, especially, try to restrict snacks because they do not want overweight children, they added.

"However, rather than promoting moderation, these feeding practices can promote disregulated overeating in children."

Instead, parents should themselves demonstrate healthy patterns of eating and exercise, the researchers advised.